Ask a Psychiatrist: Is an Eating Disorder Serious?

Psychiatrist Columbia, MD

Any psychiatrist will tell you that eating disorders are serious and, in some cases, fatal illnesses. Eating disorders are often linked with severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors as well as related emotions and thoughts. Preoccupation with body weight, food and shape usually also signal an eating disorder. The three main types of eating disorders are bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and binge eating disorder.

Eating disorder psychiatrist

An eating disorder is a condition that leads people to starve themselves, overeat or adopt other unhealthy behaviors surrounding body weight and food. Eating disorders are not just bad habits. These disorders interfere with daily life and if not treated, they can cause serious health problems. Many people with eating disorders need to be treated by a team of health professionals. Members of the treatment team may include a psychiatrist. Here are some reasons why eating disorders are serious.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that is characterized by loss of weight usually due to excessive exercise and dieting, in some cases to the point of starvation. It is diagnosed when people weigh at least 15% less than their normal or ideal body weight. Significant weight loss in people with this condition can eventually lead to dangerous health problems and sometimes even death. Some of the symptoms that may over time develop as the body goes into starvation include depression and lethargy, severe constipation and mild anemia. Untreated anorexia nervosa can lead to damaged organs especially the kidneys, heart and brain, thinning of bones, and irregular heartbeat. It can also lead to a drop in blood pressure, breathing rates and pulse and in extreme cases death from starvation or suicide.

Bulimia nervosa

This disorder is characterized by binge eating episodes. This is often accompanied by a lack of control over eating behavior and then followed by inappropriate ways of trying to lose weight like fasting, vomiting and compulsive exercising. Other symptoms include dental problems, depression or mood swings and swollen glands in the face and neck. Some complications of bulimia include ruptures of the esophagus and stomach, cardiac arrhythmias, gastric rupture, higher risk for suicidal behavior and in severe cases even heart attack.

Binge eating disorder

Patients with this disorder have binge eating episodes in which they consume large food quantities in a short period and do not feel in control during the binge. Unlike in the case of bulimia, people do not try to get rid of food by using inappropriate methods such as inducing vomiting or fasting. Binge eating is often chronic. It can lead to serious health problems like diabetes, obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. This condition also causes immense distress.

Seek treatment

Eating disorders are serious and can become more dangerous the longer they go untreated. Sometimes, the effects that eating disorders cause on the body can be fatal. This is why you should seek treatment as soon as possible. The earlier you receive treatment, the higher the chances for a successful outcome. If you want to learn more about eating disorders and the ideal treatment options, talk to your psychiatrist.

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